Kevin Harvick celebrates with his pit crew after winning the first of the two Gatorade Duels on Thursday that determines where drivers start for Sunday’s Daytona 500. (Reuters News Service)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The new car that NASCAR unveiled over the winter has been a big hit with the drivers, fans and manufacturers.
But a lot of the old comes with the new.
“The racing here (at Daytona International Speedway) is like it was 10 years ago,” said Kevin Harvick, winner of the first of the twin Budweiser Duels at Daytona Thursday afternoon. “It is the same style of racing. You want to be out front so you can control things. You have a lot more options when you are out front.”
Kyle Busch was in complete agreement after winning the second race at a speed of 193.966 mph, the second fastest Duel in Daytona history. “The place to be is out front,” said Busch after holding off a last-lap charge by Kasey Kahne and Austin Dillon. “You have to do a lot of blocking, but you can hold everybody off when you are out front.”
In Harvick’s case, the driver he was able to keep behind him was Greg Biffle as Harvick and Biffle ran 1-2 for the second time in less than a week. Harvick blocked a last-lap push by Biffle in the Sprint Unlimited last Saturday night.
“I sure hope I can make it 3 for 3 (by winning Sunday’s Daytona 500, the Super Bowl of stock car racing),” added Harvick when asked about his great start to Speedweeks. “Obviously, it has been a great start to Speedweeks. But we can’t get too high over what we’ve done. We’ve got to stay focused on doing our job and that is running well and winning races.”
Staying focused hasn’t been a problem for Harvick as he begins his last season with Richard Childress Racing. Harvick signed a contract late last year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing beginning in 2014.
“The drama (about his future) is all over,” said Harvick. “We (he and car owner Richard Childress) both agreed to put all the effort in. From an RCR standpoint, they’re putting all the effort they can into it. I’m going to put all I can into it. Gil (Martin, crew chief) and these guys (on his team), they don’t care, they just want to win races. Pride is the key in this whole situation as to how we perform.”
There is no lame-duck situation for Busch as he just signed a new long-term contract to remain at Joe Gibbs Racing. But like Harvick, all Busch wants to do is win races and he’ll do whatever it takes to accomplish that mission.
“I had to do a lot of blocking (on the final lap), but if that is what it takes, that is what it takes,” Busch said. “Kevin is going to be awful strong on Sunday (in the 500), but so are we -- and so are a lot of others. You just want to try and be out front when it comes to the end.”
While the top lane was the fastest at the start of both races, Harvick showed in his race that once the race gets 25-30 laps old, the bottom line can be a fast lane too.
“The good thing about today compared to the other night is that the bottom, once you get four or five cars (drafting), you can seem to make up ground on the cars on the top, even if they are lined up. As that pack gets bigger, I think that’s going to get even better.
“The racing (with the new cars) is the same way we used to race with the old style cars with no roof fins, nothing on top of them. It’s the same style race. Handling even is coming into effect as we’ve seen in practice and the race today.
“I want to be in front and be in control of what’s going on. If we can get to that point (on Sunday in the 500) and be able to dictate whether you need to block, move up, move down, side draft. You have options as the leader. That’s the position I want to be in come Sunday.”
While Harvick and Busch were all smiles as they talked about the advantage of being the leader late in the race, the twins were not good for the front-row starters for the 500.
Danica Patrick, the first woman to ever win the pole for the Daytona 500, struggled from the start of her race (the first one) as she never led a lap and was shuffled back to 22nd by lap 10.
“The top line was the way to go,” Patrick said. “I got freight-trained. Plus we were way too tight. I think we overshot things. We were loose (in practice Wednesday) and changed things and ended up way too tight.”
Patrick ended up 17th in her race, but she will still start first in the 500 as the front row for the sport’s biggest race was determined by qualifying last Sunday.
Gordon, who posted the second fastest speed in qualifying, dominated the first 39 laps in the second race. But he was penalized for speeding off pit road as he tried to stay ahead of teammate Kahne after both had pitted for fuel and right-side tires.
The penalty eliminated any chance Gordon had of winning the race. He ended up 12th.